Friday, February 26, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Newsweek's reporter initially contacted me about some bills working their way through the Virginia legislature that would say that no one in the state would be required to buy health insurance. It had previously been reported that these bills, if passed, would "make it illegal to require people to buy health insurance." Federalism is one of my areas of expertise, so he asked me whether a state could prevent Congress from requiring people in that state to buy health insurance. I pointed out that (a) that's not even what the bills say, and (b) of course if they did say that, they would be pre-empted by a federal law that mandated health insurance, if Congress passed one. So any state that passed a bill that purported to protect people in that state from a federal mandate requiring health insurance coverage would just be engaged in meaningless grandstanding, as politicians so often are. (The chairman of the Federation of Virginia Tea Party Patriots said that the bill was a focus of major lobbying by Tea Party volunteers. It says a lot about the Tea Party that one of their major priorities is a bill that wouldn't actually do anything.)
He also asked me more generally about the health care bill working its way through Congress, and whether it would be constitutional for Congress to require people to buy health insurance. I spent a good ten or fifteen minutes explaining that while of course we don't know yet what the final bill, if any, will actually say, it looks to me like it would be constitutional.
Having said all that, I did say that the federal government would be doing something new, and that whenever that happens, people challenge it. Given that, as far as I know, the federal government has never done this before, I suggested that a constitutional attack on a federal mandate to buy health insurance would not be trivial or frivolous, but that, in my opinion, it would fail.
So out of the whole 20 or 30 minute interview, what got quoted? Naturally, the quote is:
"The federal government would be doing something new," says Jonathan Siegel, a constitutional-law scholar at George Washington University. "It's not a trivial claim" for the states to make. "It's not frivolous."
There you are. I am accurately quoted, and I can't put any fault on Newsweek, but it looks like I am attacking health care legislation, when I spent 99% of the interview defending it.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Monday, February 22, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Faithful readers know that I have an eccentric interest in tax protestors. Curiously enough, as I explained to a Dow Jones reporter yesterday, Stack was not really a "tax protestor" as that term is commonly used. The term "tax protestor" is generally used to refer to people who, for various absurd and ridiculous reasons, claim that most Americans have no legal duty to pay income taxes. Stack, by contrast, understood that the law required him to pay taxes; he was just damned upset about it.
As tax protestors themselves plaintively point out, the term "tax protestor" is not really apt for use in describing them. They are not "protesting" taxes; they are just claiming (absurdly) that the law doesn't require them to pay tax. They might more accurately be called "tax deniers," a term coined by Dan Evans on the analogy of "Holocaust deniers." But even Dan himself calls them "tax protestors." That's just the term most people use.
Now Stack was a real tax protestor. He took action to protest his tax obligations. His terrible story shows what can happen when the country is filled with people spewing hateful anti-government rhetoric. I'm sure most people who do so don't ever plan to use violence and don't even particularly wish it to happen. But you can only call government agents so many horrible names, of which "jack-booted thugs" is one of the less caustic examples, before some crazy people will go over the edge. Hate groups are indirectly responsible for these terrible crimes.
Stack's suicide note, incidentally, shows that while he was not, as I say, a "tax protestor" in the usual sense, he wasn't exactly an upstanding taxpayer either. He doesn't give all the details of his past tax problems, so one can't be sure exactly what happened, but it seems like (1) he tried to take advantage of the special tax treatment of churches by organizing a fake church, (2) he claimed to have no income in a year in which he cashed out an IRA, which counts as receiving income, and (3) he claims to have been screwed over by the tax law changes made in 1986. The second point sounds like it could be an honest mistake that might happen to anyone, but the first point sounds like a deliberate scam, so I'm less inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt (and that's before we consider that he later flew an airplane into a building full of innocent people). As to the third point, I'm not up on all the details of the tax change Stack complained about, but I will say that the 1986 law had a big impact on my own family, as it basically made the previous line of work of some members of the family impossible. But no one in my family flew an airplane into a building. They just shifted their line of work.
So Stack was a terrible man and his story has a terrible ending. But just in case you thought you'd seen the stupidest thing a tax protestor could ever say, surf on over to Larken Rose's website (he's a convicted criminal, tax protestor, and self-described anarchist), and check out this statement in which he discusses Stack and says "generally I have to praise him for what he did."
Friday, February 19, 2010
Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated complains that it's impossible to enjoy the Olympics because so much of the coverage is tape-delayed (even though the games are being held in our own longitude this year) and it's impossible to avoid finding out the results of the events before seeing them.
I agree that this is a big frustration -- it's hard to enjoy a sporting event if you already know the result. I'm kind of upset at my favorite news websites for telling me results before I want to know them. But the same technology that brings us instant results could easily shield us from them if only editors would use a little intelligence.
It's simple: news websites, instead of splashing "Vonn Takes Gold" across their home page, should have a prominent link marked "Olympic Results." Then people who want to see results instantly wouuld only be one click away from them, and people who don't want results thrust upon them involuntarily wouldn't click the link.
Sheesh, is that so hard? News websites don't publish spoilers in the headlines of their movie reviews. When a story or a review contains a spoiler pretty much everybody follows the convention of giving a spoiler warning. So why not do it for Olympic results?
Thursday, February 18, 2010
But I think Shafer goes a little too far in his recent derisive analysis of plagiarists' excuses. Shafer provides a list of excuses and explanations that plagiarists commonly give -- that they lifted only a little, that the material lifted was so bland and boilerplate that it doesn't count, and so on.
Shafer is right that plagiarists typically come out with the same tired excuses every time. But where I think he goes too far is that Shafer seems to believe that plagiarism is what the law would call a "strict liability" offense, whereas I would say that, like most offenses, plagiarism has an actus reus (bad act) and a mens rea (required mental state).
Thus, excuse 7 on Shafer's list is "He didn't really plagiarize because the lifting wasn't intentional." Shafer seems to think that this excuse, even if proved, wouldn't constitute a defense (he describes his excuse list as "evasions" that "allow the plagiarist to displace the key question of whether his copy was adequately sourced with the more delectable conversation about the plagiarist's mental state").